Steel Wheel: Job hunting with ho-hum grades in a soft market

I face many sleepless nights these days.
I dwell on things of the past.
Decisions I made and girls I laid.
Both too few and too long since the last.
And these moods, I hope just a phase.
These moods, I hope just a phase.
It’s not simply loneliness I feel.
I admit that it’s part of the whole.
But my college peers and their prospective careers
Make me feel like I’m playing the role
Of a wooden spoke in a steel wheel.
I begin to doubt my own value
When their letters come in the mail.
They’re wishing me luck or passing the buck.
The old ‘sorry we can’t help you’ tale
Signed by a guy that’s never met you.
Signed by a guy that’s never met you.
Something I once had is missing
When I knew what I was and why.
The future not pressing. Myself not confessing,
For youth was my best alibi
And no sin is worth reminiscing.
No sin is worth reminiscing.
 But the morning will come as it has in the past
And I’ll not feel this way anymore.
But I’ll yet entertain this haunting refrain
For it hasn’t yet played its last encore.
Its sentiments, perhaps, even me outlast.
Its sentiments, even me outlast.

During my senior year, my classmates and I began interviewing for jobs. It was late 1985/early 1986 and the job market for BS chemical engineers was very soft and my grades weren’t the best. I was quite certain that I wanted to work in research (like my father), but I simply didn’t have the academic record to get that kind of job without a graduate degree. I signed up for dozens of campus interviews with chemical companies and was papering the walls of my apartment with rejection letters (the “‘sorry, we can’t help you’ tale.”). Many of them really were signed by people I’d never met and all of them were form letters. There’s a lot of 21-year-old angst and self-pity in this song, but I really did feel like a misfit in college (he was a quiet man…kept to himself mostly). But, I’d been through this mood-swing before and I knew the act of writing it down and putting it to music (most often in the wee hours of the morning) would make me feel better. The image of a wooden spoke in a steel wheel struck my fancy so I used it in the song. I was also experimenting with counter melodies (the two voices playing off the lead vocal) and I was a lot more aggressive with the bass line.

The song was recorded in my apartment in Oakland (an urban neighborhood in Pittsburgh) in the Spring of 1986 on a TEAC Tascam 4-track. I played the guitar and the bass and sang all 3 parts.

Originally recorded in 4-track mono. Mixed to stereo cassette (2-track) in 1986. Re-engineered to digital from the stereo mixdown using Cool96 September 1999

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